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The Mesolithic (middle stone age) is the period between the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. It began at the end of the Pleistocene epoch around 10,000 years ago and ended with the introduction of farming, the date of which varied in each geographical region. In some areas, such as the Near East farming was already in use by the end of the Pleistocene and there the Mesolithic is short and poorly defined. In areas with limited glacial impact, the term epipaleolithic is sometimes preferred. Regions that experienced greater environmental effects as the last ice age ended have a much more apparent Mesolithic era, lasting millennia. In Northern Europe for example, societies were able to live well on rich food supplies from the marshlands created by the warmer climate. Such conditions produced distinctive human behaviours which are preserved in the material record, such as the Maglemosian and Azilian cultures. Such conditions also delayed the coming of the Neolithic until as late as 4000 BC in Northern Europe.
Remains from this period are few and far between, often limited to middens (rubbish heaps which grew over time). In forested areas of the world, the first signs of deforestation have been found, although this would only start in earnest during the Neolithic, when extra space for farming was needed.
The mesolithic is characterized by small composite flint tools (microliths and microburins) in most areas. Fishing tackle, stone adzes and wooden objects such as canoes and bows have been found preserved at some sites.
- Franchthi in Greece
- Lepenski Vir in Serbia
- Cramond in the United Kingdom
- Howick house in the United Kingdom
- Star Carr in the United Kingdom